Category Archives: Family History blogging

Building a “Cat-Proof” Christmas Tree

For the first time in many, many years, we decided to forgo getting a regular Christmas tree and make our own…out of wood.  The reason became very clear as we watched our six month old kittens repeatedly try to climb an artificial plant in our TV room only to have it come crashing to the floor.  Now, we have had cats forever and we have witnessed them denuding the Christmas tree one or two feet above the floor, drinking all the water out of the tree stand and pulling the tree skirt out from under the tree to make a nest.  But this year we decided to surrender to the cats and make a cat proof tree, or as one of our sons calls it, a cat accommodating tree!

basic plywood tree jennyskip
basic plywood tree

I acquired three 2’ x 4’ sheets of ½ inch Baltic plywood, and using scraps of wood and green deck screws, fastened the sheets together to form a 6’ x 4’ pallet for my wife to draw a Christmas tree. The plan was to construct a tree that could easily be disassembled once Christmas was over and to store the tree in the attic. I asked Jennifer to outline the tree and locate two large openings for shelves and two smaller openings to use for hanging cat play toys.  When this was completed I took a jig saw and cut out the tree and large openings. I used an electric drill with a 4” diameter hole saw to cut out the smaller openings.

I painted the tree with forest green paint and took it inside for Jennifer to decorate the tree.  We covered the dining room table with brown paper and it became our inside work bench for constructing the tree. Jennifer will tell you that our dining room table is my favorite work bench!!

While Jennifer added snow, popcorn, holly and beads, I began construction on the boxes that were to provide the support for the tree. The plan was to mount a 5” wide by 10”  deep by 10” high box to the back of the tree at the center. Five inches of the box was left exposed from the front and would be decorated as the tree trunk.  Two boxes 12”x 12” x 10” deep would be constructed and decorated as Christmas presents, these would be attached to the front of the tree on the left and right side of the trunk. This provided a very stable tripod arrangement to support the tree. These were fastened from the back of the tree using the same deck screws used throughout the build. The boxes were constructed using ½ inch Baltic plywood. I used a skill saw to cut out all the parts since my table saw was still occupied by the Boy Scout Eagle project we are working on (Adirondack chairs for a homeless shelter in town. Maybe a topic for another blog… how to build chairs with 10 boys 13 to 14 years old trying to use electric drills and sanders!)

Two 12” inch deep shelves were cut from the same ½ “ Baltic plywood. These had their front corners rounded off with the jig saw and painted red. Later these had a wooden strip attached to the bottom which provided a bracket for attaching the shelves to the tree.

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three wooden boxes form tripod base

The tree was moved to the TV room and placed in front of the fireplace. The backup plan for supporting the tree was to run a board between the tree and underside of the fireplace mantel.  We then loaded the tops of the boxes and shelves with treats and hung two catnip toys in front of the small openings and sat back to see what happened. Our 16-year-old cat and the two kittens immediately put the tree to use. They climbed the front, the back and in between. The tree did not even shudder! Success!

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cats checking out the tree

Of course, after 30 minutes the newness wore off and they haven’t been near the tree again. However, my wife and I have felt stress-free! No broken glass Christmas decorations!  No throw-up from the cats reacting to the chemicals added to the Christmas stand water to extend the life of the dying tree (only kidding about the chemicals). No urine stains on the Christmas tree skirt!  No 50,000 pine needles all over the floor to clog up the vacuum!  And I figure that if I get one of those tree shaped things you hang up in your car that are pine scented, we can even enjoy the smell of a real tree! Next, we might even add LED lights, battery-powered so we don’t duplicate the cat-atrophy I saw on the movie Christmas Lampoon!

Planting Time

As you may have seen from our previous post, we’ve gone all out for planting a raised-bed winter garden. In the prior blog entry, we go through the process of building the planters out of wood harvested from our own back yard and bolstered with our daughter-in-law’s no-longer-needed bed slats, and filling them with nutrient-building amended potting soil. We have great hopes that the planters will make it easier and better on us oldsters, to be able to maintain a home-grown garden. The planters are about waist-high, so we’re saying “no” to back-breaking shoveling, hoeing, and bending over to weed.

Today I picked out some winter veggies from our local Garden Center that are supposed to work for our growing season, although technically, I’m told the optimal time for planting the winter crop was last month. We will see if we can keep our little project going.

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selection of winter veggie plants and herbs

We have a couple of strawberry plants, various herbs, lettuce, arugula, broccoli, and a couple of different types of cabbage. We like greens, which would be an acceptable winter crop, but for me, lots of collards, turnip greens and kale are a dietary no-no (kidney stones).

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raised bed planters

Some sustainability experts say that it’s best that your garden is situated somewhere you’ll naturally see it and come in contact with it every day, like say, a spot you walk by on your way to go to work. These guys are out on the back patio, sort of hidden. If we open the blinds in the hall bathroom, we may be likely catch a glimpse of the planters if we happen to wander into that bathroom. Otherwise, it’s “out of sight, out of mind” for the garden. Maybe if we set the alarms on our cell phones each day to “go check out the garden” then our recent efforts won’t slide by the wayside. Sheesh! The ancestors had some valid motivations to tend to their gardens, such as “you want to eat some real food, don’t you?”

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planting time

The weather report says we’re not supposed to have a freeze any time soon. About a week from today, it says, the temperature is supposed to go down to 35 F at night. The hay that we’re using for mulch will keep the moisture in the soil, and if it rains very hard, will prevent the dirt from splashing up onto the plants. Hopefully our shade cloth that is on order will get there by then so we can be ready to protect these little babies!

Building Raised-bed, Easy-water, Easy-weed Garden Planters with Family and Friends

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garden planter #1

 

My wife and I have started gardens in the past with a moderate level of success.  We have picked out a patch in our back yard, tilled the earth, worked in some potting soil and then after germinating some seeds, transplanted the seedlings and then watered and watched the bed to see what happened.  We found that the bugs liked our tomatoes, but didn’t like our squash enough to pollinate the squash flowers. Our food production was minimal.  And we hated having to bend over in the hot sun to tend the garden!  So when I saw Jon Peters’ YouTube video on constructing a raised bed garden, I was inspired to build a couple of these beds for our future garden efforts.

Urban Lumbering and Photovoltaics

We were fairly true to Jon’s design with just a few variations.  I’ll cover these variations in the following paragraphs but first, a few words on urban lumbering.  About four years ago, I entered into a contract with my local utility company with what is called a feed-in-tariff  agreement. Basically if I purchased a photovoltaic system for my house, the utility company would meter my power production and pay me $0.32/kWh for the next 20years. I received a 30% tax credit and was able to write off the cost of the system over four years. [I won’t go into the political ramifications of this program. I’ll save that for another rant on another blog.] So what has this got to do with urban lumbering?  In order to maximize our solar exposure to the photovoltaic system, we had to cut down some red oak trees and some pine trees.   Since I am a woodworker and a wood hoarder, I couldn’t bring myself to the decision of cutting down these trees and having them hauled off to the local wood-burning power plant.  So I called Lumber by Lance and Phil the Tree Guy and had them come to my house and turn these trees into beautiful stickered piles of lumber.  I watched as 4/4, 6/4 and 8/4 slabs of beautiful heart pine and quarter-sawn oak fell off the portable saw mill.

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Part of the wood piled up in the back yard

This project was perfectly timed, since one of my wood piles had air-dried for four years. We decided to not plane or joint any of the wood since, for this project, it was going to be used to hold a bunch of dirt!  

 Help from Family Sustainability Experts

Our two sons from Puerto Rico came home for Thanksgiving and wanted to help build the raised beds.  Our older son is the director of an educational  non-profit organization based in Puerto Rico, focusing on promoting sustainability and ecological agriculture, Plenitud PR (www.Plenitudpr.org or Plenitud PR on Facebook).  Our younger son is an instructor and project manager at the Plenitud farm and teaching center. This was just the type of project they live for!

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preliminary work on the planter box components

We used the same dimensions that Jon Peters used, 36 inches by 57 inches. The boys found lengths of lumber from my stash that were approximately 8 and 6 inches wide. These were cut to length, and using battens cut from old bed slats, they were fastened together to form 14 inch high sides for the boxes that would make up the raised beds.  Hardware cloth (purchased at a local hardware store) came in 3 foot widths in a roll 10 feet long, just enough to make two beds. This hardware cloth was stapled to the bottom of the boxes with crown staples. Then 1×2 slats of wood were used to frame the hardware cloth for additional support. Before adding the 1×2 slats, pressure-treated 2×4’s were used as cross pieces to add additional support to the hardware cloth. Jon Peters had suggested that additional support might be needed. In a kit-build, Jon Peters demonstrated that another way to construct the bottom of the boxes was to use slats spaced with gaps for drainage.

We took a different approach for the construction of the legs. Jon used 32-inch lengths of pressure-treated 4×4’s.  He removed half the thickness of the 4×4’s for a distance of about 14 inches from one end of the board. This formed a step for the box to sit on. My experience with the current method of pressure-treating 4×4’s is that the penetration of the chemicals into the core of the wood is not always as thorough as it could be. We decided to go with two 2×4’s, one 32 inches long and one 18 inches long, glued and screwed together. These legs were then fastened to the boxes with 2 ½ and 3 inch Robinson deck screws.

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attaching legs to planter boxes

The boxes were moved to the back yard deck. This kept the boxes out of the way of lawn mowers and weed eaters. Once located on the deck, architectural (weed prevention ) cloth was stapled to the inside of the boxes. This was to provide for a layer to retain the soil while letting water drain through.

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in place on the deck

Our Puerto Rico Sustainability Experts then stepped up and set about helping us put together a perfect growing media for the new raised beds.  The basic recipe for the soil mix was 40-50% organic matter, 25-30% perlite and 25-30% peat moss (not a sustainable component) or coconut fiber (a sustainable component). Our specific mix was comprised of Black Cow © (cow manure fertilizer as a source of nutrients), CocoLoco © (worm castings, coconut fiber, perlite and soil), peat moss, potting mix, and additional perlite.  This was mixed up on a tarp (see the YouTube video) and placed in the raised beds.

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ready to mix the garden soil

After filling each raised bed with the soil mixture, we added a layer of hay to the top of the soil mixture. This layer of mulch slows down evaporation of water from the bed and protects new seedlings.

Additional Support System for the Raised Beds

The next day we acquired some 10-ft lengths of ½ inch PVC pipe and clamps and constructed a support system for each bed.  The support will provide for shade (50% black cloth) during the summer months and for cover during the winter to protect the plants from frost.

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shade cloth is still on order

Now on to the local nursery to pick out some fall/winter seeds and seedlings!

Thanksgiving Day

We have so much to be thankful for!

We’re having our big get-together tomorrow so all the kids involved can also celebrate the holiday with other family members as well. We are all pretty much in good health at the moment. We’re looking forward to a fulfilling future. We’re grateful for the ancestors who survived, in spite of many challenges, to extend the familial pedigrees up to this day.

A  recent tendency is to “boo-hiss” the Pilgrims who came to America and displaced (a generic way of stating it) the Natives.  I don’t think I have any actual Mayflower ancestors, but Skip does. Some of our ancestors may not have done the right thing. They could have stayed in England, or France, or Ireland, or Germany, or (according to Skip’s DNA map) an obscure island out in the middle of the ocean, but somewhere down the line they made a decision to come to the New World. Did they ever imagine a time when someone could record their thoughts and instantly project them, electronically, to folks around the world, without waiting months for a letter in return? Thankful for communications, media, technology. Even though it will, at times, make me totally crazy.

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Thanksgiving 2016 wooden puzzle

Here’s the panel I hastily painted for Skip to cut into puzzle pieces–about 120 pieces.

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cutting pattern on back of puzzle

We’ve made puzzles before that have the pieces cut out first, then we painted a picture on top of the cut-out pieces. He likes it better to have the image painted on first, then he draws a jigsaw pattern on the back and uses the pattern as a guide for where to cut with the saw blade.

Prior to cutting, he masked the image on the front with painter’s tape. Then, after cutting out, he removed the pieces of tape.

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painter’s tape

Cutting the pieces generates some dust and small fibrous pieces on the cut edges, which we will deal with once the puzzle is reassembled.

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in a lidded plastic box for safekeeping

Next step: printing a copy of the subject matter to attach to the box so the kids will know what the puzzle is supposed to look like.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pick Your Passion, 2nd Year in a Row: Quilting, Woodworking, Football, and Bluegrass!

Last year about this time, I blogged about the local Quilting and Bluegrass Festival, here. This year it was very similar, but more so!

Similarities: the Festival was held on a day when our college town had a football game. The Festival showcases 100+ gorgeous quilted works of art. One of the bands that played last year came back:  Patchwork. The vendors and store owners in the center had cool crafty eye candy to ponder and peruse, and the quilts were truly marvelous to behold!

Skip was busy helping out with an Eagle Scout project, which consisted of building some chairs for a community group home (he loves it when the younger generation wants to do woodworking),

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Eagle Scout woodworking project

so I sashayed up to the local shopping center to see some quilts.

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I entered three raffles, hope I win them!

Several of these pics include an information sheet pinned to the quilt, so you can zoom up and see the details, thereby crediting those who produced these amazing articles.

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Celestial Soda Pop
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Gator Life by Lucy Goddard-Teel
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cool crafts in the corridors
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gorgeous smaller quilts
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The Hubby Quilt

 

I learned there are several quilt guilds in the area, holding meetings at various times, day or night. So there ought to be one that fits the schedule of just about any quilter or  wannabe-quilter in town.

 

 

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This one features Overshot squares made with fabrics woven by the quilt maker
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This quilt is to be raffled off in May…
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“Australian Dreams” by Charlotte Mason
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“The Bear Went Over the Mountain” HAND-QUILTED by Doris Lockward

 

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Skinny MInnie table runner

I bought this cute mini-table runner from one of the vendors. It’s a great little project to place on a side table in the house during football season. Speaking of which, gotta go watch the game…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All Souls

by jenny

I saw an interesting post on Facebook about the celebration of All Souls’ Day in Lithuania. To get some background on the subject, see this post. (from a blog in 2014, but with great info)

Growing up, I never heard much about the two days after Halloween, All Saints’ Day (November 1) and All Souls’ Day (November 2). Is All Souls’ Day the same as Dia de los Muertos? I would love to start some American traditions for All Souls’ Day. Imagine, a public holiday for people to honor and connect with their ancestors! It might spark a new family history revolution!

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(this mug is sitting on the desk at our local Family History Center)

Meanwhile, back in Lithuania, the government has issued pamphlets to the people, giving guidelines on what they can do if and when they are faced with an attack from the Russian Army, which is predicted to happen in the very near future: see this article. Googling Lithuania, I haven’t seen anything new posted in the past few days. Is the invading nation waiting to see who will end up being the new leader of the free world?

 

 

Autumn Table Runners

This is the second autumn table runner post, the first one presented a few posts ago, here. That first one was pretty much general quilting, with a pieced top and a whole underneath side, with batting in between, quilted on the Qnique longarm, or “mid arm,” as some people designate it. The raw edges are bound with Wright’s Quilt Binding.

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pieced Autumn table runner

If you had to categorize this next one, the main descriptive word that comes up is “appliqué.” It is quilted, in that small pieces of fabric were put together on the top. But the underside is not pieced, unless you count that I ripped it in half length-wise and serged the two long halves together.  And there is no batting in the center.

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appliqué Autumn table runner, with Sheenah

Naturally, the fabrics used in these projects are mostly remnants from the 50%-off bin at JoAnn Fabric Store. I had a couple of larger pieces of fabric, say, almost a yard each, for the top and bottom. The top is a plaid fabric with metallic orange-gold threads woven into the check pattern. The backing is a striped very low-pile flannel in yellow, tan, and tobacco-ey colors that wash together.  You can see the center seam of the runner above, and I decided to make one side a maple motif, and the other side an oak motif. All the leaf, pumpkin, and blackbird appliqués were cut with the Accuquilt Go! Big machine and templates. I backed each appliqué piece with Steam-a-Seam 2 double-sided fusible web, also cut on the Accuquilt cutter, and then ironed them on to the runner top side.

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deciding where the appliqué shapes were going to go, and securing them down

After the appliqués were applied, I wanted to pull them all together with branches and tree motifs. I looked at lots of methods for yarn and textile couching, which is technically just laying down strands of yarn or string and then sewing over them. Looking through my box of sewing machine feet, AKA my Foot Stash, I found that I had a heretofore unused Yarn Couching Feet Set.

Husqvarna Viking Yarn Couching feet jenny skip
couching kit

The two plastic feet each had a small hole (one was larger) through which the end of the yarn was to be threaded. You hold the end of the yarn in one hand and move it around, if in “free motion” mode, and then sew over it. (You can also use it with an embroidery hoop and software pattern.) The kit also contained two different types of hooks to mount on the back of your machine, to use as thread guides for the yarn, a device for threading thick yarn into small holes, and some sample yarn and a DVD and basic instruction sheet.

I found this process to be pretty interesting, but this yarn was very slubby and every so often I had to cut and re-thread, because the big slubs wouldn’t go through the hole.

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yarn couching on the oak side

Next, after couching, I needed to sew down the appliqués. Originally I wanted to do a big thread-art project, using different colors of thread to add shading to the pumpkins and also do the tree trunks and branches in embroidery thread. But since I used the thicker yarn, I decided to just basically outline the shapes in one color and not do a whole bunch of shading, and leave it as sort of “primitive” colors and shapes.

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finished runner, with free-mo embroidered appliqués

After going over all the appliqués with free-motion embroidery, I spray-starched the backing and ironed both top and back, making sure the back piece lined up with the top. Then I sewed all around the edges of the top  with Wright’s Bias Tape Maxi Piping in black, with the piping facing inward, toward the center of the cloth. I then sewed the backing on, right side facing the appliquéd side of the top, and sewed the edges, leaving the piping sandwiched between, and leaving about a fist’s length of seam unsewn, for turning. After turning inside out, and hand-sewing the opening closed, I pressed the edges, making sure the piping was peeking out and at the very edge of the seams. Then I top-stitched around the edges, about 1/4 inch from the piping edge, using thread that matched the top (and back for the bobbin thread).

Sometimes people will comment on the nice stitching, so I wanted to come clean and say that it isn’t me who’s responsible for that, it’s my Foot Stash. I use a special see-through foot with a little groove in the bottom, for sewing piping, and another special see-through foot with a metal attachment, called an edge-stitching foot, for top-stitching.  And the machine has a triple-stitch function that I use for pretty top-stitching, setting the length on a 5 or so (normally it’s more like a 2.5 for ordinary seams).

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Skip’s natural-edge table decked out for a Fall party

It was fun to make, and the cats definitely like it.  Sigh.  Cat people will understand.

 

It’s no puzzle why ghouls like Halloween

by Skip

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ghoulish ghoul puzzle

According to Dictionary.com :

“Come Halloween, miniature ghosts, ghouls, and goblins ring your doorbell. But each of the three freaky frights has a different history and personality.”

“One of the only features these staples of the supernatural share is their ghastliness. Ghosts are considered to be the souls of the dead. They are imagined as disembodied spirits, and are often visualized as vague or evanescent forms; hence, the white sheet routine. The Old English gast means “soul, spirit, life, breath.” A red blood cell having no hemoglobin is also called a ghost. ”

The details behind ghoul are far more malevolent and may have inspired a horror film or two. “

According to Wikipedia,

“A ghoul is a monster or evil spirit associated with graveyards and consuming human flesh.”

“In modern fiction, the term has often been used for a certain kind of undead monster. By extension, the word ghoul is also used in a derogatory sense to refer to a person who delights in the macabre, or whose profession is linked directly to death, such as a gravedigger or grave robber.”

This puzzle started with what I envisioned as a ghost.  However, my skill at drawing in a Word file is extremely limited. So, as you can see from the file I ultimately loaded into the Full Spectrum laser, this could have been anything; ghost, ghoul, goblin or even a skull.

After I cut out the puzzle, I glued on a back to make it a tray puzzle, and after sanding each piece, I put the puzzle together and gave it a white primer coat of paint.  I did have to sand each edge of the puzzle a little to loosen it up. The laser makes such a fine cut that it is very difficult to take it apart and put it back together.

After applying the primer, I turned the puzzle over to my wife to again use her artistic talent to make a pearl out of a pig’s ear, although a pig’s ear probably looks a lot better than my puzzle outline. My wife really got into this which really worries me about what goes on in her mind!!  After all, she use to work for the property tax collector’s office, so she is familiar with ghouls…which I think inspired her to paint such a ghastly figure!  Compare this to the sweet Jack o’lantern she painted last year for my Laser Jack puzzle.

Hope you enjoy the outcome!  Subscribe to our YouTube channel and our blog for more projects.

 

The Covers

While waiting to be caught up in the next project, I’ve been turning out a few interim FO’s (finished objects) that loosely fit into the category of “covers.”

The main thing they have in common is that they’ve used up larger pieces of fabric that have been lounging in the fabric stash.

These are mostly cotton lightweight lap quilts we sent to the non-profit organization that is closest to our hearts, plenitudpr.org .

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The tops of the quilts are cotton flannel remnants pieced together, and the backs are cotton remnants in sizes of about 2 yards. The solid yellow one above possibly has some polyester in it. But the idea was to have a smooth, bedsheet-like side and a warm, flannel side. The edges of the backs extend over the tops, and are folded over and sewn down with a machine featherstitchto make borders.

img_2460This one is a lap quilt made from the selvedges of fleece fabrics. A few  years back, I was making fleece blankets a lot, and trimming them with packaged Wright’s fleece binding. First, Wright’s discontinued the royal blue fleece binding that went perfectly with Florida Gator trademark pattern fabric. Now, you’ll be lucky if you can find fleece binding on eBay in any color other than black or white. Normal people, I guess, would trash the selvedges, but I threw them in a box, and this is the end result. This little quilt of sewn-together selvedges can also be turned around and used for light non-fiction reading if we get tired of watching TV in the La-Z-boy. Fun for the whole family.

Next, if you’ve seen my Pinterest page, you might find that I’ve gone nuts pinning tablerunners. These little projects are wonderful for expressing creativity, but not getting bogged down in a big, long, quagmire of obligation like you would get making a full-sized tablecloth or a queen-sized quilt. It’s just a little slice of a quilt, the slice with all the good stuff in it!

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As soon as we put a covering of any size on a flat surface, a cat’s bohunkus is right on top of it.

This tablerunner was an experiment, using remnants. The top is 5-inch squares pieced together, and the back is one whole piece, about a yard of 44 or 45-inch wide cloth, cut in half lengthwise and pieced together on the short sides. I longarm quilted it, loading the short sides on the frame and rolling out the length. I used the meander stitch, and although I thought I had the tension right from the previous project, it came out with some of those spidery-looking ugly  stitches on the back. When Lorraine came over and did a little project, we decided that one problem with the tension was the cheap-o thread I had loaded up. Without even thinking, I got a cone of thread that I normally use in the serger and threaded it up, bobbin too. Next time, we will try thread designated for machine quilting.

 

 

 

It was a Mushroomy Monday

Now it’s almost dark at the beginning of the morning walk. For a few days it was cooler. Now it’s hothouse-hot again, and the humidity is above 90% every morning. Sigh.

Mushrooms are flourishing in our neighborhood.

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white dish mushroom

Almost every yard I pass by has a few.

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UFO-looking mushroom

Ooooh…fungus! Even though I like the kind of mushrooms you can buy in the store, I wouldn’t have a clue about how to forage fungi that you can eat without keeling over, poisoned to death (see Death Cap article–says people who ate it found it to be especially delicious!)

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cute as a button

This one looks like some that grew in a ring-shaped formation at my mom’s house. Whenever she saw mushrooms growing in the yard, she would make haste to go kick them down. I didn’t see any fairy rings in the neighborhood as I walked. Apparently only certain varieties grow in the ring formation (see Wikipedia Fairy Ring article.) 

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yellow mushroom
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lacy mushrooms
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puffy blimp of a mushroom
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thick yellow crusty mushroom

One of my memorable scared-half-to-death moments was watching the 1960’s Japanese-dubbed-into-English horror flick “Attack of the Mushroom People.” After a walk in the 97% humidity, scratching No-see-um bites and scuffling through lichen-encrusted twigs that fell onto the lawn, it’s easier to imagine the fate of those poor shipwrecked folks in the movie!

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looks like a human ear mushroom
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mushroom bud

I wanted to go to a gazetteer online and possibly identify these varieties, but after looking, I found so many! Even some of the more seasoned researchers put disclaimers on their sites, because they might misidentify some varieties. So I won’t even attempt to post the correct names of these guys here. I never realized there are hundreds of types of mushrooms. They are beautiful, but also a little creepy, too. Maybe in the future we’ll discover amazing medicinal properties in some of these little gems.